Monday, March 09, 2009
REMEMBER THE ALAMO march 6
A few days ago, March 6th, as they've done since 1836, very few people remembered the Alamo.
So why break the illfolks tradition of posting on a 9, 19 or 29, just so a straggling few might actually remember the Alamo on the right date? To use a well known Native American expression: Feh.
In case you don't remember, for thirteen painful days, Feb. 23 to March 6, less than 200 Texans held off about 2000 Mexicans (the number is 5,000 in the "Ballad of the Alamo").
This brings to mind a joke.
A stewardess comes rushing down the aisle of a small plane, announcing, "We're losing altitude. Three people will have to jump from the plane in order to steady it! Who will make this sacrifice?"
A British citizen stood up and proclaimed, "There will always be an England," and jumped. A Frenchman cried out, "Vive La France," and jumped. A burly Texan stood up and shouted "Remember the Alamo!" And he pushed a Mexican out of the plane.
A key fort in the territory war between "Texians" (citizens of what is now Texas) and Mexicans was San Antonio's Alamo. Two men later to be legends (with TV shows about them, the ultimate honor) helped defend it; James Bowie who was among the first to request reinforcements, and Davy Crockett, who with a few volunteers was among the very few to heed the call. Colonel Travis was in command. As the massive Mexican army began to wear down the Americans, legend has it that Travis drew a line in the sand with his sword, offering any man the chance to step over it and escape certain death.
Death came for the surviving Alamo fighters on Sunday, March 6th, when the Mexicans surrounded all four walls of the Alamo and poured in, allowing no surrender. Bowie, who had taken ill many days earlier was slaughtered on what became his death bed.
"Remember the Alamo" became a rallying cry, and the rest is indeed history, for the Mexicans would never again come pouring over the borders into the United States. Right?
Well, let's not be too down on immigrants. Immigrant Dimitri Tiomkin wrote some of the most authentic Western music in the history of movies, including "High Noon" and his theme for John Wayne's "The Alamo." His song "The Ballad of the Alamo" became a semi-hit, with Marty Robbins' version edging a cover by Bud and Travis.
The original tune is sort of a lame hoedown, telling the story in an almost Disney-jolly kind of way (Crockett was already a Disney hero and hit song subject).
The Robbins version clocks at 3:44, and tries to tell the complete story, with a bugle playing "Taps" toward the end.
Bud & Travis shoot it down to 2:48, stepping up the tempo and cutting away some of the flabbier lines of story-telling.
The Alamo to remember is from Bud and Travis a duo that once came to nosebleed blows because they disliked each other so much. But could they harmonize? Why, like the Kingston Trio with one guy missing. They sure could.
This version packs cinematic punch, pulsing and poetic, with fierce guitar-slapping percussion (ironic...that's a Mexican guitar trick, not an American one) and the periodic blood-spills of swirling violins. It doesn't let up enough for the music's punchline (the melody line from "Taps" as we mourn the men "asleep in the arms of the Lord") but that's a minor flaw in an otherwise brilliant piece of folk-rock glory. And this take is in stereo!
In mono, you also get a very, very rare alternate take. It's got an identical music track, but a slightly different vocal from Bud and Travis. They aren't quite as focused on this take, not always in synch either. But in the interest of collector-obscurity and morbid curiosity, you can now own it.
You also get two versions of "Remember the Alamo" (Cash and Leatherwood) which concentrates on the Travis "line in the sand" legend.
"Ballad of the Alamo" is represented by Marty Robbins, Bud & Travis, Terry Gilkyson and an instrumental version by the Ned Nash Orchestra. Plus there's the lyrical "coda" from the original soundtrack, a summing up featuring a chorus and the orchestra led by Dimitri Tiomkin.
Update November 2011: Several individual songs have been re-upped individually:
Bud & Travis stereo
Bud & Travis rare alternate take mono
Frankie Avalon "Ballad of the Alamo."
Download or listen on line. No pop-ups, porn ads or use of sleazy companies that pay a percentage to bloggers for their "hard work." The hard work was done not by upping files, but by the original writers and performers.